How Medicine Take-Back Works

Medicine take-back programs are the only secure and environmentally sound way
to dispose of leftover and expired medicines.

  • Ongoing drop-off programs are usually at a pharmacy or a law enforcement office.
  • Take-back programs use secure equipment and procedures to prevent theft or diversion.
  • Collected medicines are destroyed in a way that protects our environment.
  • Community demand for medicine take-back programs is high, but most communities do not have a program.


Take-back programs can be

  • Ongoing drop-off programs.
  • One-day collection events.
  • Mail-back programs.
  • Combinations of these approaches.

Most of the take-backs operating in Washington are ongoing drop-off programs that are operating on a temporary basis.  Ongoing drop-off programs are the most convenient, cost-effective, and secure approach.  They are considered temporary because funding for these programs is temporary or uncertain.



Ongoing drop-off programs

Pharmacy programs: These programs can accept all over-the-counter medicines and prescription medicines, except those that are controlled substances.

Law enforcement programs: Most law enforcement programs accept all medicines, including controlled substances; some only accept prescription medicines. Some law enforcement offices accept pills without their containers.

Unwanted medicines are deposited in metal collection bins
that have been specially designed to prevent theft.  When
unwanted medicines are deposited into the bin they drop
into a plastic bucket or cardboard box.


Secure equipment

When that inner container is full, trained staff follows strict procedures to seal the box and send it to a secure storage facility.

Since the first program started in Washington in 2003, no theft or diversion of any returned medicines has occurred in any authorized medicine take-back program.
Learn more about secure equipment and operations

Secure and proper disposal

Once a shipment of boxes has accumulated in a secure storage area, the waste medicines are sent to a disposal facility, where they are destroyed by high temperature incineration. Learn more about disposal


Demand is high

The demand for medicine take-back is high.  Washington residents are using temporary take-back programs because they are convenient, secure and don’t pollute the environment.  Unfortunately, these programs are funded with shrinking local government and law enforcement budgets, pharmacy funds, or grants – sources of funding that are not guaranteed.  Due to a lack of funds, large areas of our state have no take-back locations.  Take-back programs need permanent funding.  We need a state-wide program paid for by drug manufacturers.